Muslim athletes competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow are ending a month of fasting just in time for the tournament to kick off.
Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, begins on Thursday at sunset and goes into the next evening. That coincides with the start of the international soccer tournament.
Nations with large Muslim populations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Iran and Morocco will all have teams participating in the cup, and their players been training through the holy month of fasting. Several other teams, including France and Germany, also have prominent Muslim players.
Fasting means abstaining from food and drink from sunrise until sunset, which can create complications for Muslim athletes. Ramadan conflicts have arisen during a number of international sporting events, including the Olympics. The 2014 World Cup unfortunately coincided with the start of Ramadan, which left many players in a complicated situation.
Although this year’s tournament starts just as Eid does, it hasn’t stopped Muslim competitors from running into issues.
Soccer is a sport with a bad reputation for phony injuries, and players are often accused of faking hurt to get ahead. The Tunisian national team managed to take advantage of this practice to score enough time for a brief respite in World Cup friendly matches earlier in the month.
Tunisian goalkeeper Mouez Hassen “went down” in a pair of exhibition matches against Turkey and Portugal so his teammates could have a moment for iftar, the meal signifying the end of a day’s fast. Tunisian players quickly replenished with water and dates on the sidelines.
Liverpool’s rising star Mo Salah made headlines in May when he broke his fast ahead of the Champions League final. Salah made the plan after consultation with a nutritionist, team physiotherapist Ruben Pons told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
Pons clarified that Salah would “resume Ramadan” after the Champions League final and going into the World Cup.
The Islamic faith has exceptions during Ramadan that allow someone to break a fast depending on a person’s health, traveling schedule, and whether they are pregnant or menstruating.
Traditionally, Muslims who begin to fast and have to skip days for whatever reason are able to “make up” the fasts they missed. This means fasting again for the same number of days any time after Eid al-Fitr. Given that Salah will be playing in Moscow for Egypt’s national team, it’s unlikely he’ll be making up those days until after Egypt’s exit from the tournament.
Egypt’s team manager Ehab Leheta told Arab News that players are expected to make their own choices, but management has also been prepared to support them for months.
“We’ve been planning it since the start of year,” Leheta told Arab News. “We have a nutritional program courtesy of a guy from England who we have brought on board. He has brought great value to the team, starting in Zurich (at our training camp in March) and will continue until the end of the World Cup.”
Saudi Arabia’s players broke their fast intermittently with “special dispensation” for travel days and training during Ramadan. The team “can manage these things” and will do everything required of it, the country’s team manager told The National in May.
Saudi Arabia will face off against the host country, Russia, on Thursday evening as Eid begins. Egypt, Morocco and Iran will also play during the holiday as it comes to a close on Friday.
None of the national teams mentioned in this story or FIFA immediately responded to a request for comment on any plans to celebrate the holiday at the tournament.